Monday, August 23, 2004

Rapture Red & Smoke Grey, Sarah Gordon
2003, Turnstone Press, 72 pages
isbn 0-88801-285-3, $12.95

if I get to the base of things, of desire, all I really want to do is sing,
and run. to sing well and loud, to run tirelessly, to be thoroughly
exhausted with good work done.

this is what I want.

to know who God is, and how he works, and what his hands and eyes
look like, and fire.

p 16, Winter in My City

Winnipeg poet Sarah Gordon’s debut collection, Rapture Red & Smoke Grey, is written in five sections of sequences: Winter in My City; Outgoing Mail, a series of postcards; Poems written mid January; Pilgrimage to Kansas City; and First Breath of Spring. A pilgrimage, between religion and stories of pioneers, Gordon’s collection is a book about searching, and the importance of the search. Where questions remain as important as the answers.

What I wonder is, despite the amount of poets currently writing and publishing in Canada, how is it that two western female poets are both making references to painter Egon Schiele? (Vancouver poet Catherine Owen did too, in her first collection, Somatic: The Life and Work of Egon Schiele, Exile, 1998.) As in the reference left in the first sequence, writing, "Today is cold and damp in the bones as I was walking downtown the / air was reaching through my jacket and sweater and I was prompted / to write an essay on Egon Schiele’s hands." (p 6, Winter in My City), continuing, "How odd to mention Vienna here, in the middle of a prairie winter / location is everything."

And then God said to me


you are made of restraint, and
unrestraint, the space that breathes
between walls that heave and buckle.

p 9

Amid the violence of the elements and the beauty of the earth, Gordon situates herself, grounds herself, and puts a flavour in the first section of her Rapture Red & Smoke Grey that resonates throughout, as the place she is in, is from, part of what she sees as she looks inward.

The second section, "Outgoing Mail, a series of postcards," is literally a series of postcards written to Christopher Pratt, Anne Carson, Michael Ondaatje, Robert Motherwell, partygoers, Jane Urquhart and Anthony Hopkins. "Firelight is wasted on / burning your mistakes." she writes to Pratt (p 23), in a short piece on striving too hard for perfection; suggesting instead, to accept it as it comes. To Montreal poet Anne Carson, she writes, "Dear Anne. I am writing in response to the Afterward you wrote for / part three of Plainwater. You are right, and I thank you for directly / addressing me." (p 24).

The third section, "Poems written mid January," is the least prose-like of the pieces in the collection, nearly ghazal-like in their execution, as each line is another opening into a further direction.

cold is made of beauty and fear
and thaw is made of aching.

the pain in your own hands,
blood surging sore in them

like yanking red ribbons.

p 35, Poems written mid January

There is a lot going on in this small collection, deceptively so, using simple language to do complex things.

on a pilgrimage everything counts, everything that happens is a kind
of omen. there are secret messages in cities, well designed in signs
and street names. today I walked down Perishing Road, heard an old
man muttering about elevators except he kept calling them Lifts and

p 49, Pilgrimage to Kansas City

Through all the searching, I would like to know what she finds, where she ends up. There is a wisdom to her lines, a keen and naive awareness of the kinds of things she’s looking for and finding along her way.

originally appeared in Grey Borders (Niagara Falls, Ontario)

Friday, August 20, 2004

Karl Siegler (publisher of Vancouver's Talonbooks) Wins Award!

I just found out about this. Congrats to Karl (& his lovely wife Christy, who is as much Talon as he is)!!! Check out what their press has been doing for longer than I've been alive at

Below is the press release:

For immediate release: August 17, 2004:from The Organization of Book Publishers of OntarioKARL SIEGLER WINS THE EIGHTH ANNUAL JANICE E. HANDFORD SMALL PRESS AWARDToronto, ON — The Organization of Book Publishers of Ontario (OBPO) is pleased to announce that Karl Siegler, publisher of Talon Books in Powell River, BC, will be presented with the eighth annual Janice E. Handford Small Press Award at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival in Eden Mills, Ontario.The award was established to commemorate the contribution of Janice Handford, who, until her death in 1996, was a respected and beloved member of the Canadian book publishing community. As Administrative Director of the OBPO, organizer of the Trillium Awards and publicist for numerous literary events and publishers throughout the country, Janice Handford was always a passionate advocate of Canadian writing and publishing. To recognise her commitment, Janice’s colleagues and friends created an award to be presented annually to an individual who has advanced the cause of small and literary Canadian publishing.This year’s jury included Bill Harnum (founder) and three previous winners of the award, Judy Mappin, Simon Dardick, and Tim Inkster.“For over three decades, through his involvement with British Columbia’s Talon Books and the Canadian publishing industry, Karl Siegler has made an unparalleled commitment to Canadian literature and Canadian-owned publishing,” said jury member Simon Dardick. “He has contributed to the cultural and intellectual life of this country.”Karl, with his wife Christy, continue a Talon Books tradition of publishing excellence in poetry, fiction, non-fiction (including environmental and social issues, and literary criticism), drama, and works in translation by writers like bill bissett, Marie-Claire Blais, George Bowering, Frank Davey, Roy Kiyooka, Mary Meigs, bpNicol, Jane Rule, George Ryga, Audrey Thomas, and Michel Tremblay. The Talon vision encompasses a serious commitment to new writing in all genres, and the translation of the plays and novels of Québecois writers.Karl Siegler co-founded the Literary Press Group of Canada and was a founding member of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia. He has been chair of the LPG and president of the Association of Canadian Publishers. Karl was also involved in the creation of Simon Fraser Centre for Studies in Publishing and its Masters in Publishing Program. His policy work – research, position papers, and lobbying – on behalf of Canadian-owned publishers, particularly literary publishers, has been exemplary.“Karl has been a mainstay of literary press publishing in Canada for thirty years,” said jury member Bill Harnum. “In addition to publishing some of our most important serious fiction, poetry, and plays, he has also served as the intellectual godfather of independent publishing in Canada.”The presentation will be made on Sunday, September 12th at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, an event for which Janice Handford worked each year. The prize is a piece of Canadian craft art, another of Janice’s great passions. Her husband, Bill Harnum, Senior Vice President of University of Toronto Press, will introduce the award and David Caron, Executive Director of the Literary Press Group of Canada, will introduce Karl as the recipient.Past winners of the Janice E. Handford Small Press Award include Jack David (of ECW Press, 1997), Roy Macskimming (of Association of Canadian Publishers, 1998), Angela Rebeiro (of Playwrights Canada Press, 1999), Judy Mappin (of Double Hook Book Shop, 2000), Simon Dardick (of Véhicule Press, 2001), Tim Inkster (of The Porcupine's Quill, 2002) and David Caron (of Literary Press Group of Canada, 2003).For more information, contact:Julie Ford, OBPO Executive Directort: 416.536.7584,

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Ongoing notes etc, late August 2004

Toronto, Ontario: After her first collection made so much noise (her 2001 collection from Brick Books, Short Haul Engine was nominated for the Griffin Prize), it’s good to see something new from Toronto-based Karen Solie, in her chapbook The Shooter’s Bible (2004, Junction Books). A beautifully-designed chapbook in an edition of 150, The Shooter’s Bible includes three sections of poems on geometry, Walter Benjamin, birds, weapons, small arms & chance.

Designed with hunting images across the cover, the chapbook is built in three sections along the same lines – Range, The Shooter’s Bible and Open Season. There is a practical edge to Solie’s poems, mixed with a casual toughness, with an undercurrent of rougher stuff, a darkness. Listen to the end of the poem "AN ARGUMENT FOR SMALL ARMS" (p 21) that reads, "Extension / of the arm, the eye, the mind’s / follow-through to an end / in shards. The clap and recoil / of continuity, cracked. Air torn / like a letter through the middle / of before and after." Or the piece "ONE NIGHT STAND," that I’ve included in full:


I could say it’s a wash
in a border town where even the border
is at sea, a floater. On a clear day,
America bellies up in plain sight
across the blameless strait. I could say
constancy’s a wobbly topic,
though I’ve been years in a house
that suits me well enough,
with its doorknobs and its doors,
and I’m known in certain corners
as a real live wire, tireless booster
of the last one standing. That night,
nothing but good legs to go on. The bar
shucked bass into the street, an unknown
band from way down east. He saw me
from the stage in my next-best
dress. I was neither here nor there.
Sometimes, we fold. He drove
through 2000 miles of rain, he said,
only to find me at the continent’s
end. His gift to me. And mine to him
that I would not think of him again.
(p 31)

Someone should really interview Solie at some point. I’d love to hear what she has to say about writing. Why hasn’t that happened?

Unfortunately, due to ill health, editor/publisher Carleton Wilson made only two chapbooks this spring – Solie’s, & David Seymour’s HEAD ARRANGEMENTS: Twelve-String Poems for Huddie Ledbetter – as well as a great t-shirt with a Walter Benjamin quote (I wear mine all the time), & has cancelled &/or postponed the remaining books for 2004. Hopefully he will be feeling better soon & can, among other things, make more books. For more information on these or his backlist, check out his clever website at

Edmonton, Alberta: To be launched in October by Extra Virgin Press / Olive Reading Series are their first two chapbooks separate from the Olive reading series chapbooks, one by Shani Mootoo (that I haven’t seen yet) and Don McKay’s Varves. A lovely chapbook of eight pieces, half of which are prose, Varves reads as an interesting counterpoint to McKay’s Camber, selected poems (McClelland & Stewart: Toronto) that appeared in April, 2004, especially considering the collection didn’t include any "new" pieces (& ignored the first ten years of his publishing as well, leaving out, among other things, his Long Sault). Even though the chapbook appeared in fall 2003, the publishers wanted to wait until McKay could go to Edmonton to launch the book before they released any but the sparsest number of copies.

In both poems and prose pieces, McKay moves from pastoral to stone (he has long been called a "pastoral" poet. I haven’t decided what I think of that yet), writing "Precambian Shield," and Scottish standing stones in "Gneiss," ending the piece with:

Think instead of Munch’s The Scream with its contour lines of terror;
then subtract the face. Or you could turn on the weather
channel to observe those irresponsible isobars scrawling across
the planet. Imagine our ancestors tracing those surfaces, whorled
fingertip to gnarled rock, reading the earth-energy they had
levered into the air. They had locked the fury into the fugue
and the car crash into the high school prom. They engineered
this dangerous dance. Better stop here. Better spend more time.
(p 2-3, Gneiss)

By now, he and his partner, Jan Zwicky, are probably at the family cabin the McKays still have near Williamstown, Ontario (in Glengarry county, by the Raisin River), where the two of them write in seclusion a few weeks or months out of every year, usually in the late summer & fall. (Envy, envy, envy.)

For copies of this or the Olive chapbooks they’ve produced, or to get on their email list for the monthly Olive readings, bother any of the boys at

Victoria, British Columbia: Another one of those letterpress publishers out there in the world is Caryl Wise Peters’ Frog Hollow Press, publishing chapbooks by various authors including John Barton, Shane Neilson and others. More formal than my usual taste allows, one book I did get recently was tracery & interplay, by Fredericton, New Brunswick poet (and President of the League of Canadian Poets) matt robinson. An absolutely lovely book, the grey flannel cover (as the colophon says, a wool and cotton paper from India) makes the book feel better than almost any I’ve held. I like to hold it.

His third collection, after two trade books, tracery & interplay is a collection of eleven hockey poems, from "zamboni driver’s lament" and "why we wrap our wrists the same each time" to "the lost art of waving." My favorite in the collection has to be "to montreal, by bus, for the game" that reads (in part):

the widening eyes’ competing vices, stretched rubberband’s
near-limit taut, of the rain. all of – a sea now
un-parted after years – a sudden. the instant biblical,
or near. the sky a headlong torrent tear; like
what we imagine must be the theatrical
interior of a drain just after a plug’s grudging acquiescence;
I like the rhythm of the poems in this collection, feeling as though robinson is more & more comfortable in his own voice. For more information, check out their website at

Toronto, Ontario: I’ve been reading various poetry collections by Toronto poet Phil Hall, & realizing that he deserves much more of my attention than I’ve previously given him. Called a ‘language’ poet with the concerns of a work poet, Jay MillAr’s BookThug recently published a small chapbook of Hall’s called The Bad Sequence. Originally performed by the author as part of MillAr’s series, The Speakeasy, "a series of informal talks" on March 7, 2004, The Bad Sequence is a series of lines making swipes at bad writing, & the things that many of us might still do, even though perhaps we shouldn’t, starting:

This is a bad sequence.

The Bad Sequence is ready for its interview about
Line One.

(p 5)

A strange and hilarious sequence built out of a series of lines, some parts of it seem too familiar, making his own criticism of the art through an over-the-top sequence.

The Bad Sequence is overly sub-title-proud.

The Bad Sequence knows that the self-sufficient
line does not a book make.
(p 6)

The Bad Sequence has chosen erudite, funny, and
campy quotes as epigraphs to suggest that it is eru-
dite, funny, campy. This is like sticking your head
through a hole in a painted wall at a carnival so
that in the resultant photograph it looks as if you
were having tea with the Queen.

The Bad Sequence has been too busy waiting for
the mailman to water its plants.

The Bad Sequence has read something you have-
n’t, and in that advantage mistakenly hears poetry.
(p 7)

According to his bio at the back of a recent issue of Event, Phil Hall celebrates 20 years with Brick Books with the publication of his next collection, An Oak Hunch, in 2005.

The Bad Sequence is published and distributed by Jay MillAr’s BookThug. Other current BookThug titles include limited-run chapbooks by Daniel f. Bradley, Alice Burdick, Christopher Dewdney, Jason Dickson, Gerry Gilbert, Jesse Huisken, Karen Mac Cormack, David W. McFadden, Jay MillAr, nathalie stephens and rob mclennan. check out his website at & check out the interview I did with Jay MillAr on his BookThug in the fall issue of Broken Pencil, due out in October.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Ghazal of July Storm by Matthew Holmes

Ghazal of July Storm

The smell of greenstalk tomatoes
on my fingers

The wind pressing into windows
testing their ripeness

The dog pacing
unsure of our night movement

The bamboo I’ve taken from the basement
to tie my plants

Moments of love
talk that pauses into sleep

This short poem, originally appearing in the first issue of echolocation (2003), published out of the University of Toronto, and subsequently reprinted as above/ground press broadside #177 (above/ground press, September 2003), is an example of the strength of Matthew Holmes’ shorter poems. The poem is evocative of place, without being of that place. Placed within its own placelessness.

Since first reading his work around 2002, I’ve been an increasing fan of Holmes’ poetry, from seeing his poems in literary magazines, to his small self-published letterpress pieces through his bad repoesy Mfg. Co. (publisher also of the zine Modomnoc), and to his chapbook Hitch (above/ground press, 2003), but I’m much more taken with his shorter, punchier work. Holmes’ longer pieces seem somehow less effective.

The ghazal, as worked in Canadian literature so often since American-born New Brunswick poet John Thompson’s Stilt Jack appeared posthumously in 1976 through House of Anansi Press, influencing a whole range of other poets then and since, including Patrick Lane, Phyllis Webb, Douglas Barbour and D.G. Jones.

Lately, it seems, the ghazal has become one of those forms, like the sonnet, that everyone and their dog is working on, with varying degrees of success. I’m not a big fan of the collection Bones In Their Wings, ghazals (2003, Hagios Press: Regina) by Lorna Crozier, for example, but for her postscript "Dreaming the Ghazal into Being." Vancouver poet Catherine Owen has done some interesting things with the ghazal in her second collection, The Wrecks of Eden (2001, Wolsak & Wynn) and since, and, as I’ve said before, I think Edmonton poet Andy Weaver is just brilliant.

With recent stints in Ottawa (where he joined the editorial board of Arc magazine) and Toronto, Matthew Holmes has recently returned to Sackville, New Brunswick where he went to university, where he plans to simply write for a while.

There is an essential slowness to Holmes’ piece, pausing and pauses which go against the storm, the dog; against the restlessness of what else is happening outside the scope of the narrator’s hands. The tender action nearly zen against the suggestion of rage of wind and rain. And such a thin, thin line between.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Rules of the House
2002, Apogee Press, $12.95 US
96 pages, isbn 0 9669937 9 9

It is not the accuracy of the story that concerns me.

But who gets to tell it.

(p 11, As Remembered)

In her first trade collection of poems, Rules of the House, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa has written a suite of poems telling one extended story, each fragment full of song and fracture, and each line radiant into itself. Dhompa, who was raised in the Tibetan communities in India and Nepal, but schooled at both the University of Massachusetts and San Francisco State University, writes of moving one culture over another, not as much a collision as shifting points-of view, from her specific East to West.

Quiet. We say her chakras are in place.

When the thermos shatters, she knows the direction of its spell.
She knows how to lead and follow. Know her for this.

Sounds we cannot hear. The wind blows and we say it is cool.

(p 24, she is)

After two previous chapbooks, In Writing The Names (A.bacus, Potes & Poets Press) and Recurring Gestures (Tangram Press), there is no excess in how her writing speaks, each phrase an illumination, layering what has gone before. A lyric aria written in long lines, for the dead and for the living, the collection works as an ongoing exploration of her world and her family’s world, and the lessons she needs to understand before going further. This is probably one of the cleanest and smartest first books I’ve read in a long time.

We wait for rain to take care of certain things.

(p 46, Preparing for the third lesson)

There is such a fine simplicity with such breadth, with each pinprick existing as another opening. How rare a collection where each line becomes essential. Moving through family rituals and rules, her poems explore how things were done and are still done, with a series of lessons spread throughout, regarding the body, marriage, life and death. Lessons from the old world to the new, between the older women and their daughters.

Men love
silence in women

said aunt Pema.


What comes warm
is good warm.

The right hand kneads barley.
Left washes the bottom.

The rest
is fate.

(p 14, First lesson)

Mothers teach their daughters to pick the best tomatoes. Shy to
the touch. Surface of cement. Tashi asks if husbands are picked the
same way.

(p 20, Second lesson)

Measure what is made. Its eventual contour.

(p 70, Fourth lesson)

The women around were married. And then those declared old.

Knowledge comes from what you pay attention to.

(p 92, Fifth lesson)

Even the narrator’s claim on these lessons are firm, but soft, like the tomatoes from the "Second lesson," in a line that could be read in different ways in the final poem, "One more say," writing, "Who dares to question the accuracy of a direction when the journey / was not theirs." (p 93). However considered, only the narrator will decide to take from these lessons what she will finally take.

I want too much to quote every line; reread Dhompa’s poems than finish the review. I am still so much here that I haven’t even begun to consider wanting to read more. I want more.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Judy Tenuda, Love Goddess

A little off-topic, but I miss Judy Tenuda. Whatever happened to her? I miss her accordion wisdom.

Here are some quotes of hers I've found thanks to the internet (almost as good as Fraggle Rock's Madame Trash-Heap for giving out answers to obscure questions).

"Friends are just enemies that don't have the guts to kill you."

"My mother always told me I wouldn't amount to anything because I procrastinate. I said, 'Just wait.'"

"Have you ever dated someone because you were too lazy to commit suicide?"

Ongoing notes etc, August 2004

It’s summer, & I just got back from a week & a half spent on my parents’ farm with my lovely daughter, until we all got sick of each other. Here are a few things I was picking at before I left town.

Toronto, Ontario: An absolutely lovely thing I picked up last fall in Toronto (or was it this spring?) was a three dollar card with a bill bissett painting on the front (poemsnpaintingsbybillbissett2004). Mixed with coloured text on the front, as well as text inside, these cards are lovely and well worth the price. I wish I could have picked up more than one, so I could have even sent this to someone. For those who haven’t experienced bill, it’s really hard to explain. One of Canada’s earliest soundpoets, bill has been putting out a book every eighteen months with Vancouver’s Talonbooks longer than I’ve been alive, and his amazing and prolific writing exists through sound itself, as in this small fragment from the inside of the card:

laaaa avvvv all 2 touch yu agen our minds tasting
sharing is all claptyura should arms inside yu
inside me n letting b until jusqua nous parlons en

(from: ths is an in 2 print pome imprinting)

Everyone should go out and get one. Unfortunately, there’s no contact information on the card at all, & I haven’t been able to discern where else to get them, apart from (potentially) at the toronto small press book fair. If anyone out there knows, send me an email.

Madison, Wisconsin: I’ve been wanting to see more and more of American poet Lisa Samuels’ work since I first found some on-line, searching around for new material to read, which led directly to her issue of STANZAS published in November 2002, "The Museum of Perception" (#33 – long out of print). Still looking for copies of her two trade collections – Letters (1996) and The Seven Voices (1998) – I have been going through her more recent chapbook War Holdings (2003, Pavement Saw Press: Ohio), which co-won The Pavement Saw Press Chapbook Award (along with F.J. Bergmann’s Sauce Robert) for 2002-3. Check out the first part of the first poem, "Paper Airplanes" (np):

Paper Airplanes

Crash-landings are ideological
to tell us their unhappiness
like fireflies commit themselves
to destruction, lucifern-touching
heliotropes rise up like air balloons
to test the sky and other rough
immensities, your eyes
melting rapidly through time
to make a wash across this page–

I’m quite taken with how her poems move, a seamless movement of fragment after fragment that hold together beautifully.

Along with a brand-new baby, Samuels, who teaches Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, apparently has a couple of poetry manuscripts on the go, in various stages of completion (and looking for homes, perhaps?). With luck, perhaps I’ll be able to convince her over the next year or so that a chapbook with a Canadian press is a good idea?

Sackville, New Brunswick: Even though he gave it to me while still in Toronto, Arc co-editor Matthew Holmes has since returned to where he schooled, in Sackville, New Brunswick, taking his ‘zine Modomnoc and bad repoesy Mfg. Co. press with him. With threats of another issue of his zine forthcoming, he gave me this little sewn chapbook with a letterpress cover, his own science fiction, marked "poems." A series of five prose pieces, here is the opening to the fourth piece, "Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle."

When he graduated from making phony lost dog posters,
Werner didn’t even realize it had happened. He was walking
back with a coffee from Magnolia’s, stepping around a
couple looking at one of his flyers–how terrible; can you
imagine; a Christmas puppy; in this cold
–and thought to
himself with the white noise of a mild hangover trailing him
how he’d go about it if he found a bag stuffed with cash.
There’s not a lot of it moving around these days, especially if
it’s in large bills. And what are you supposed to do–really–
what is The Good Citizen supposed to do? Does the city’s
website have something about it?

He does absolutely lovely letterpress items, & can probably be convinced to part with some of it for money, or hell, even make a few more things, given the right incentive. Slowly publishing in literary magazines across Canada, you can bother him via email at